Pulse: Shake the Money Tree
There are myriad ways to raise funds for your cause. One of the most popular is through a live or silent auction. However, fundraising auctions run the gamut from wildly successful to terribly ineffective.
What makes the difference? That's what veteran fundraising auctioneer Richard O'Keef examines in his book "Shake the Money Tree: How to Produce a Winning Fundraising Event with a Live and Silent Auction." O'Keef, who graduated from the Missouri Auction School in 1992, produced his first fundraiser for a local Boy Scouts of America cake sale, "and despite being pretty green, we raised three times as much money as we did the year before," he says. "And I thought, 'Wow, this is good stuff.' So I decided to make my niche fundraising auctions."
Since then, O'Keef has conducted more than 700 fundraising events. Over the years, he noticed that some auctions were very successful while others were less so, and he wanted to find out "what caused the difference and if anything could be done to make sure that all of my auctions turned out to be successful," he shares.
O'Keef studied the elements of successful and unsuccessful auctions through his own experiences and research, and determined there are four objectives every successful event achieves.
Here, O'Keef shares those objectives and the power of auctions.
FundRaising Success: What compelled you to write "Shake the Money Tree"? Why now?
Richard O'Keef: Back in my early fundraising auctioneering days, some of my auctions were successful and some were — shall we say — less than successful. Well, I wanted to find out what caused the difference and if anything could be done to make sure that all my auctions turned out to be successful.
So I went to work observing, analyzing and participating in hundreds of fundraising events. I discovered four objectives that are achieved at every successful fundraising event. Every successful event, without exception, achieved them. And every less-than-successful event failed to meet one or more of these objectives.
Then, I set out to determine what tasks needed to be accomplished to make sure these four objectives got met. That led to compiling a complete list of tasks needed to put on an entire fundraising event. I wanted to make all this information available to fundraising event organizers. So I was compelled to write this book.
Why now? I wish a book like this had been available 17 years ago when I started consulting for nonprofits. It's long overdue.
FS: What makes auctions so successful for fundraisers?
RO: There is a way to inspire generosity. And being aware of these four objectives of a fundraising event is the best way to begin:
1. Guests are made to feel important.
2. They gain a desire to support your cause.
3. They want what is being sold.
4. They get caught up in the thrill of bidding.
FS: In your book, you lay out tasks for the different chairs in an organization. How important is it for all those parties to have strong communication with one another? How can an organization make sure everyone is on the same page to plan and execute a successful auction?
RO: "Shake the Money Tree" is organized by chairperson: event chair, volunteers chair, invitations chair, live auction chair — 15 chairpersons in all. I thought it would be easier to find a particular task that way. The tasks are listed in chronological order on my Web site ?(letsdoanauction.com).
Everyone involved should know two things: 1) how much you are trying to raise — not just the final goal, but a breakdown of revenue sources and estimated expenses; and 2) what the money raised is going to be used for. The awareness of these two things tends to motivate much more than, "We want to raise as much as we can, and the money will go into a general fund."
Periodic meetings should turn into regular meetings as the event gets closer. I also suggest a postevaluation meeting and a postevent party for all who helped.
FS: Are auctions viable options for smaller organizations that might not have the personnel to divide up the tasks as you ?suggest in the book?
RO: Sure. I've seen two and three people throw together a fundraising event. It's a tremendous amount of work, though. And some event chairs are even new at event planning. But consider this: If producing a successful fundraising event is the result of doing certain tasks, then anybody, regardless of their background or experience, can be successful. They just need to know the tasks.
FS: The four objectives you lay out are all about the guest, i.e., the donor. Just how vital is it to remember that, yes, your cause/auction is important, but when raising funds, it's all about the guest/donor?
RO: Here's what I see sometimes. Event planners are great at putting on a party with all the logistics of securing a venue, inviting people, planning the menu, etc., but don't focus enough on inspiring guests to spend. Then after the event, they wonder why they didn't raise as much as they had hoped. Although a good portion of what I teach deals with the logistics of producing a fundraising event, I also show how important it is to grow relationships with guests, and how to get them in a spending mood.
Consider this: From the moment your guests step into your event until the time they leave, they are in your realm of influence. What you do or fail to do during that time will make a difference in how generous your guests feel.
FS: Can you offer some key best practices for fundraising ?auctions? What are the most vital aspects of the book?
RO: Guests are more apt to be generous if you pamper and entertain them; if you educate them about your cause in subtle ways and make an emotional appeal; if you use smart marketing techniques when it comes to your live and silent auction items; and if you put showbiz into your live auction. Also keep in mind that different people need different opportunities to contribute during the event besides the auctions. Raffles (where allowed) and, my favorite, "Fund-a-Program" will give everyone an opportunity to donate.
FS: What's your favorite part of conducting fundraising auctions?
RO: I get to help change lives and even save lives, and thinking about that gives me goose bumps. Working with great people at these organizations who love the causes that they support, working side by side with them is a great opportunity; working with volunteers who have donated their time to help the organization, I'm honored to work with them. Really, I don't know a better business to be in for me because I love being an auctioneer, I love getting people in the mood to spend money, I love getting people to spend money at my auctions and thank me for the opportunity to have spent money, and I enjoy seeing where the money goes to help save lives and to improve lives all around the world. FS
Joe Boland is copy editor and staff writer for the Target Marketing Group at FS’ parent company, NAPCO. Reach him at email@example.com